1) Illinois (Previously: 1st / Record: 10-1) The Illini fared a bit better than Michigan State against Oakland, beating them on Wednesday by a score of 74-63, but not much better. Oakland led Illinois at the half in a truly bizarre game — the first seven minutes were played with a women’s basketball, something I’ve never heard of happening. What’s remarkable is that seven minutes of gameplay went by before the players convinced the referees that they were playing with the wrong-sized ball (Big Ten referees, everyone!). Oakland has developed a knack for rushing out to early leads against good teams before relinquishing them late — the Grizzlies did the same thing against Purdue last month and did it against State later in the week. If they can learn how to hang onto a lead, they’re going to be even more dangerous than they already are. Illinois rounded out the week by taking care of business at home against Northern Colorado, beating them by 10.
Next three: 12/18 vs. UIC, 12/22 vs. Missouri at St. Louis, 12/29 at Iowa
2) Ohio State (Previously: 2nd / Record: 8-0) Sure all the Bucks did this week was beat two pretty bad teams at home, and they only beat IUPUI 75-64 on Thursday. But what happened against the Jaguars was pretty amazing. Jared Sullinger, the nation’s best freshman (possibly the nation’s best player), went off to the tune of 40 points and 13 rebounds in an absolutely jaw-dropping performance. This tells me that when Ohio State is struggling, they can feel safe dumping the ball in to Sullinger down low and letting him go to work. It remains to be seen if he can do the same thing against Big Ten opponents, but he sure looks like a dominant force in the paint. The scary part is taking Sullinger into account along with the Ohio State’s great upperclassmen. Buckeye coach Thad Matta on his team’s makeup:
I think that’s something I’m most proud of today where this team is and the job that Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, David Lighty and William Buford have done. We’re a unique team with three seniors, one junior and no sophomores. As I told the freshmen when they came in this year, I’ve got great faith that these guys can lead you in the right direction.
The Buckeyes wrapped up the week with a solid 85-60 creaming of Western Carolina at home.
Next three: 12/15 vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 12/18 vs. South Carolina, 12/21 vs. UNC Asheville
3) Wisconsin (Previously: 3rd / Record: 8-2) The Badgers had a very solid week. They wrapped up their tour of cupcakes at the Kohl Center with a 61-40 dismantling of UW-Milwaukee on Wednesday. The Wisconsin defense keeps getting better as the Badgers held an admittedly hapless Milwaukee team to just 15 points in the first half. Wisconsin then took its show on the road to Marquette and eked out a solid 69-64 win against the rival Golden Eagles. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan during the Big Ten coaches teleconference on the game:
It’s good, hard-nosed, tough basketball whenever you have familiar opponents like that … Possession for possession it’s usually about as competitive as it gets in the non-conference.
The Badgers racked up an impressive offensive 15 rebounds and scored 21 second-chance point en route to the victory. Marquette has yet to find a win against a solid team, as it dropped both of its early-season tournament games — the first was to Duke, but the Golden Eagles lost the second game to Gonzaga, a beatable squad. We’ll see how good Marquette is as the season progresses, but I’m willing to bet that victory will pay dividends down the road.
Next three: 12/13 vs. Green Bay, 12/23 vs. Coppin State, 12/28 vs. Minnesota
4) Purdue (Previously: 5th / Record: 9-1) Purdue kicked things off this week by traveling in-state to Valparaiso and beating them 76-58. It remains to be seen how this Boilermaker team will deal with the loss of arguably its best player, but so far Purdue has handled it like a champ. Other then one ugly loss to Richmond in Chicago, they’ve won all of their games, including last week’s win at Virginia Tech, and going on the road and beating what appears to be a middle-of-the-road mid-major handily will do even more to bolster this team’s confidence. The way they beat the Crusaders was especially impressive: after Valpo went into halftime down just two, E’Twaun Moore decided to shut down Valparaiso’s Brandon Wood, the team’s leading scorer with 18 points at halftime. Moore held Wood without a field goal in the second half and the Boilermakers cruised. They then protected home court with an easy 77-57 victory over North Florida on Saturday.
Next three: 12/18 vs. Indiana State at Indianapolis, 12/21 vs. IPFW, 12/28 at Michigan
5) Minnesota (Previously: 7th / Record: 9-1) The Gophers got back to their road-winning ways on Wednesday with an 83-73 win over St. Joseph’s. St. Joseph’s may not look like much because they’re such a young team (two seniors, one junior and five freshmen), but going on the road to cozy Hagan Arena has proven to be a tough task historically. Minnesota has to love what it got out of that game: five different Gophers in double figures and holding off a late rally by the Hawks. Don’t think Tubby Smith can ask for much more than that, especially on the road. The Gophers arrived home to beat Eastern Kentucky and got 19 points out of Ralph Sampson III, who is solidifying himself as one of the top post players in the Big Ten. Point guard Al Nolen continues to work his way back toward the line-up and will be a welcome addition when he returns.
Next three: 12/15 vs. Akron, 12/23 vs. South Dakota State, 12/28 at Wisconsin
6) Michigan State (Previously: 4th / Record: 7-3) Tom Izzo and the Spartans continue to pay for their overzealous early-season scheduling. They started the week by traveling to Madison Square Garden to face Syracuse on Tuesday only to get beat 72-58. After the game, Izzo said his team played like "sissies," and it’s tough to disagree with him — Syracuse appeared to be able to do whatever it wanted against State. The Orange took hold of the lead with about four minutes gone by and never gave it up. Tom Izzo called his team’s start "a hair disappointing," and here are what he believes to be the causes of that:
I think the lack of doing anything all summer for three or four guys really hurt us, especially Lucas and Payne, Lucious a little bit and Thornton a lot … And honestly, the disappointment that Nix wasn’t doing so well just went through a tough stage, and that hurt him some. And then, just the schedule and lack of practice time.
The one takeaway: Durrell Summer appeared to get it going, scoring 18 points in the kind of performance State fans would like to see on a more consistent basis. The games didn’t get any easier for Sparty, as they mustered a one-point win against a very good Oakland team on Saturday at the Palace to round out the week.
Next three: 12/18 vs. Prairie View A&M, 12/22 vs. Texas, 12/31 vs. Minnesota
7) Northwestern (Previously: 6th / Record: 6-0) Figures the Wildcats would quit sports during finals week. Typical Northwestern brainiacs. They move down one spot from last week because the Big Ten Power Rankings don’t encourage studying over hooping. Sitting idle, at the very least, prevented their strength of schedule from dropping any further.
Next three: 12/13 vs. Long Island, 12/16 vs. American, 12/20 vs. St. Francis at New York
8) Michigan (Previously: 8th / Record: 7-2) Michigan kicked off a solid week with a not-so-solid 86-65 victory over Concordia, a school most area high school teams would demolish. The Wolverines looked sorry in that game, but looked like a different team in their 75-64 dismantling of Utah at Crisler Arena in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated. Michigan saw a lot of good stuff out of this week: Tim Hardaway Jr. found his outside shot, Darius Morris racked up two double-doubles and Jon Horford introduced himself to Wolverine fans against Utah with a thunderous slam, solid rebounding and his first 3-pointer in a maize uniform. The bad news? Michigan takes on Oakland on Saturday in an especially tough pre-Big Ten-season warm-up.
Next three: 12/14 vs. North Carolina Central, 12/18 vs. Oakland, 12/23 vs. Bryant
9) Indiana (Previously: 9th / Record: 7-2) The Hoosiers only played one game this week, but it was a big one: against Kentucky in Lexington in a battle of historic basketball powerhouses. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, the Wildcats were just too much to hold off. Indiana played pretty well and can take a lot of good things from this game. It was mostly a back-and-forth contest, with the Hoosiers actually taking the lead with about 10 minutes left in the game, before Kentucky turned up the D and Indiana went cold. From that point on, Indiana scored just one more field goal and Kentucky controlled the offensive glass and lived at the free throw line. The result was an 81-62 loss that looks uglier than it was, but was still pretty ugly.
Next three: 12/17 vs. SIUE, 12/19 vs. South Carolina State, 12/22 vs. Northern Iowa
10) Penn State (Previously: 11th / Record: 7-3) The Nittany Lions edged past Mount Saint Mary’s at home 57-53 to start the week on Tuesday, and it didn’t get much better from there. Penn State traveled to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech but unfortunately didn’t have the success that Purdue had there last week, losing 79-69. As should be the common headline for the Lions this season, Talor Battle had a great night (26 points) but ultimately it was all for naught as his team still lost.
Next three: 12/21 vs. Maine, 12/27 at Indiana, 1/2 at Michigan
11) Iowa (Previously: 10th / Record: 5-5) Boy, these Hawkeyes are struggling. Iowa actually started off the week on a good note, with a 51-39 win over Northern Iowa on Tuesday, but followed that up with a really uninspired effort in an ugly 75-72 loss at home to Iowa State. Iowa appeared to be in control early as it went into halftime with a 40-31 lead, but it seemed like the Hawkeyes lost interest in the second half as they let the lead slip away.
Next three: 12/18 at Drake, 12/21 vs. Louisiana Tech, 12/29 vs. Illinois